As the national media covered Pulse, most of them acknowledged the massacre had taken place in a gay nightclub on Latin night. But few recognized that Latin night at Pulse was not only a night to party – it was a safe space for queer and trans people of color to be themselves and dance to J Balvin and Romeo Santos on the same night. Although the 49 victims of the mass shooting were from different races and sexual identities, they were overwhelmingly composed of queer Latinxs. (Pronounced "la-teen-ex," Latinx is an all-inclusive, gender-neutral alternative to the more restrictive terms Latino or Latina.) Nearly half of them were Puerto Rican, but there were also Mexicans, Dominicans, Cubans and some undocumented people.
Living in the intersection of both the LGBTQ community and the Latinx community comes with its own set of unique challenges. Some of the governmental agencies and institutional LGBTQ organizations who responded to the tragedy weren't equipped to handle services in a language other than English, says Christopher Cuevas, a co-founder of QLatinx. These organizations also had a hard time understanding the different needs a Mexican immigrant might have from a Nuyorican from the Bronx.
This need for an understanding space ultimately led to the birth of QLatinx, a grass-roots community organization that focuses on helping queer and trans Latinxs.
"We had people in our community who need to be with one another to support each other," says Cuevas. "We needed to be there to talk about grief, to talk about pain and be there in a way no one has been able to be there for us."
QLatinx has since met on a weekly basis to talk about issues like the coming-out experience, immigration rights, access to affordable housing and health care, and building connections to the predominantly Latinx communities outside Orlando that were also affected by the massacre, such as Kissimmee.
Many of the meetings also focus on healing, such as when the group joined with visual artist and University of Central Florida professor Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz to create 49 calaveras, also known as sugar skulls, for an installation at the Chicago National Museum of Mexican Art's Dia de los Muertos exhibition.
"We're still mending our broken hearts and souls," Cuevas says. "But in this space, we feel safe, we feel connected, and we can turn to one another in times of crisis because we're struggling in the same way."
Marco Antonio Quiroga says after Pulse, the Our Fund Foundation, which supports the LGBTQ community, created the Contigo Fund to support grass-roots efforts that advance the causes of LGBTQ Latinx people, such as QLatinx. Quiroga, who is the program director for the fund, says more than $1 million is being held by the Contigo Fund for local organizations.
"The support that's coming from the community for victims' families and survivors is critical, but there is a window for that," he says. "But there is an opportunity for folks to contribute and create lasting change by contributing to efforts that address the long–term needs of the community. Historically, the LGBTQ Latinx community, and even just the Latinx community, has not been in positions of power locally. We want to make sure the community feels empowered and that they have a voice for themselves."
QLatinx meets every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. For the location, visit facebook.com/qlatinx.